Born in 1932, raised and educated in Marseilles, I was seven or eight years old when my first fascination with women began. I was obliged to attend the Opera on Sunday afternoons until the age of twelve. It was quite an ordeal but during the performances the ballet, for me, was a true miracle. In the ballet were beautiful creatures, women who could not exist in this world, floating angels from another dimension. I was in love with them all!
The greatest influence on my work was that of my Father. He was a painter, a symbolist. Our house was filled with his canvases: nymphs and satyrs, Templars, and troubadours, myths and legends inspired by great poets. His palette and composition were dramatic and unique. In his paintings the human figure was dwarfed in fantastic settings and Dantesque landscapes. Those impressions have stayed with me throughout my life.
Other influences were my passion for nature, which drew me to the exploration of caves. There I could discover some of the dramatic tableaux and lighting effects which left such a deep impression earlier. Old castles, dark mysterious stairways, ruins, canyons, tormented landscapes, these strange mysterious places left an indelible mark in my photography. In 1951 I immigrated to Western Canada.
By 1954 I began my career as a photographer. Where I was living, I had no access to examples of photomontages, but at least I could find some of the best work from the Masters of the period. Among them was Peter Basch with his dynamic and action nudes, the sensitive work of John Rawlings, and a rare edition of the superb Betty Biehn who was probably the first fashion model to be photographed nude by the great names in fashion photography: Fernand Fonssagrives, Philip O. Stearns, Frederic Smith, and others. In spite of this isolation, my early works were well received in photo salons and publications abroad.
But photographs of the nude alone were not fully satisfying to me. In my mind, regardless of composition, form and light, they did not have great artistic value. They lacked meaning. Their use was that of a sketchbook, notes, poses, and angles to be developed later into a body of work with more depth and creative merit. By 1956 I began to experiment with photomontages. Dark room "magic" opened the doors to what was to become a life-long dedication. This was an absolute revelation, a way that could enable me to express emotions and experiences stored away from my youth to the present, a way to communicate and share the joy of discovery.
The mid-Sixties were for me a time of positive influence from other painters, friends and photographers. Among the big names Sam Haskins is on top of that list. Along with the outstanding beauty of his models was his talent as a graphic artist, and his darkroom wizardry. In contrast was Lucien Clergue with the simplicity of his images. Jerry Uelsmann was one of the very few who used photomontage techniques I had adopted ten years earlier. Some of the best photographers of that period dealing with the nude were Phillip Halsman, Jean Loup Sieff, and Don Ornitz. These artists reinforced in my mind the endless possibilities, styles, and creative opportunities available in working with this single subject, the female form.
It was a very creative period, intense, stimulating, and honest. It was also a historical turning point in the liberation of women. The hippie movement revolutionized the hypocritical attitudes toward nudity. Freedom and celebration of love and life were the themes of the times.
In the early 60’s I ended the profession of photographer to pursue my career as a museum designer, thus saving photography for the sheer joy of it !!
This was a significant decade for me. A great choice of models who enjoyed the new liberated status were available at that time. It was an ideal environment for figure work. A very intense period, painting and photography in tandem with my full time profession as a museum designer was most demanding. The pressure took its toll. Painting was my escape, and this aspect improved more than my photography which did not reflect a leap forward in creativity during that period. I could in painting express my feelings and emotions better than with photographs. During this period, lack of time did not permit me to continue my work on the experimental montages I enjoyed producing so much. The photographs done then failed to translate the emotion I intended. This was a significant “wake-up call”. It demonstrated my lack of ability as a photographer to communicate with the straight, unmanipulated image, what I could do with the photo-montage. Certainly with the camera to depict grace or sensuality of beautiful models is easy, but it is not enough. It can so easily fall into the banal, trite or deja vu. I wanted to go deeper, know and understand the subject, translate emotions and feelings. Only dark room magic allowed me to do that freely and with competence. Frowned upon by “purists”, photomontage was not always accepted, and yet to me, if a picture tells a story that is what really counts. The technical process is secondary to the message. The reaction the picture provokes is what motivates me. Not to be accepted by the “Purist Club” added even more incentive to pursue my individual style.
My collected photographic work of the seventies was to be a great resource for my book on photomontages which has been in the works since the end of the sixties.
The 1980s saw great changes in photography. We cannot ignore the “cheese cake” magazine trade. In most publications the pendulum swung away from what had been an exciting display of competitive representations of the nude in its beauty and sensuality. Instead, it fell into vulgarity and degradation, in many cases representing the female body as no more than a sex object devoid of beauty and soul. I felt distressed to observe a crumbling of values and ethics into what was to branch out a decade later into an unbelievable market for open pornography.
The recent law authorizing photographic representation of pubic hair, a non-issue at first, eliminated at last the overly retouched bodies—sterile, plucked, “epilated” forbidden zones. At long last here was the real woman, complete, mysterious, sensuous. Sadly, for some, this was not enough. In a short time, a race began among publishers to see who could be the most daring, to destroy that triangle of mystery, turning it into a pictorial gynecologist’s manual. The spiral downwards began—from glamour, to erotica, and into obscenity.
My work during this decade is highlighted by a shift to a newer form of expression and photographic presentation, the multi-media “experience”. Multi-slide projection was a direct by-product of my museum design work. Here was the unique opportunity to test, create, and discover possibilities of presentation which could be applied to that work while remaining totally personal and experimental in their content. The multi-screens and multi-projectors, ranging from three to twelve projectors, together with all the electronic hardware, sound mixers, tape decks, turn tables, etc. delivered quite an impact. This created an extensive and costly build-up of electronic “goodies” which was a far cry from the three-enlarger dark room I had graduated to over this period. It provided a leap forward in creativity and performance. Here, I could write entire shows, and prepare rough storyboards which required me to switch the format of my photography to 35 mm colour slides, a major change from the years of black and white work with the Hasselblad.
Colour was exciting to work with, however, the mounting process was lengthy. Glass mounts and masks had to be prepared for each image. Most of these productions were experimental, with nude montages, often to be dismantled after viewing only a few times. It was pure fun and an excellent exercise in creativity. Sound, colour, motion, all added a magic dimension to the human figure. Furthermore these exercises helped me to apply the experimental techniques of multi-media production to museums that we were designing at the time, “sans le nude” obviously!
This was a great decade for me, I was able to devote more time to photography and work with some excellent models. It was also the very beginning of the greatest technological revolution that introduced new means of reproducing images, digital photography, changing forever the manipulation of the silver images. Impassioned by photomontage for four decades, the use of the digital darkroom revolutionized the process. However, the many years of doing it the “hard way” has remained an invaluable experience to supplement the new technology. The transition to digital image processing was not easy at first and transferring, even a small portion of my photo library to digital became a lengthy process ambushed many a time by my lack of knowledge.
On the world stage, this is the decade where fashion’s “top models” take the limelight, and go nude for the camera. Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Laeticia Costa, Helena Christensen to name a few, and also “our own Canadians”, Estella Warren, and of different “top” fame, Pamela Anderson, originally from close to home on Vancouver Island. All barriers are broken. The best of these top models are now showing themselves in all their beauty through the lenses of many great photographers. Again, Richard Avedon and Helmut Newton, Herb Ritts, Patrick Demarchelier, Dominique Isserman, and many, many more work with the nude figure. But, in spite of the sensationalism and shock value to show the bare body of top fashion models, few had little artistic merit. By contrast, far away from slender fashion models, in a class of its own, the unique world of Jan Saudek won well deserved notoriety for his unique approach, style, colour, humour, and the absolute simplicity of his studio backgrounds.
This is also the decade of the greatest revolution in communications, the internet, where the flood gates burst open providing an unprecedented marketplace for nude photography, and, along with it, soft core and pornography: “the good, the bad, and the ugly”.
the new Millennium
A start with a bang into the new millennium !
Great changes are taking place. Digital photography is now taking over of the silver image. In less than the first five years of 2000, film manufacturers are closing their doors. Floods of digital cameras invade the market place, and so does nude photography. Digital photography and the computer programs associated with it are an absolute revolution in image making.
The internet and the communication web it has created open the doors to many unknown photographers from every part of the globe, at least not accessible before. This of course is a great opportunity to all. First it provides exposure, communications and contact with fellow photographers sharing the same interests. The internet also opened up a multitude of “ virtual “ galleries where imagination and talent flourish. On the other hand it also, sadly, opened the doors to a flood of soft core and pornography far beyond what was already displayed in the news stands decades earlier.
Another revolution is the change in the human figure itself.
The ideal "classic" female body is, in my view, becoming an endangered species. Men and Women have chosen to alter, even mutilate their bodies to various degrees. Tattooing is a first example. While some tattoos are discreet personal signatures, others are invasive blotches impossible to cover up or even retouch. Another example is body piercing, here again from eyebrow to nose , lips , tongue, breast, navel etc….. And yet another change to the body is the shaving of pubic hairs. Gone is that triangle of mystery and sensuality. These alterations, tattoos, piercing, and shaving have become a true trademark of our present society but create a real handicap if the figure is to be represented as a timeless icon. Fortunately hair will grow back, piercing will heal, only the tattoos will remain as the mark of yet another passing fad.
The years 2007 and 2008 stand out as years without any sittings. We had sold our summer home of 12 years in Provence along with the best and largest studio I ever had. It was the end also of the great choice of models I had there.
This dry shooting spell was a good opportunity to do some major editing on the mass of work I had taken in France, and an inspiration for a new wave of montages. In the search for new approaches, I was able to experiment with duotone and polychrome effects in the new images.
The year 2009 was a return to painting in the first part of the year. It was a needed and welcome change from the computer. It helped formulate new ideas for upcoming montages. Also a major upgrade of my web site was planned and would keep me busy for a good period of time.
Planning ahead is fine but does not always happen as foreseen. On May 7th I was struck by a severe heart attack followed by pneumonia and further hospital complications. The major web upgrade had to wait!
As I was recovering in late August I lost my closest friend of 63 years. Georges was my harshest critique and had greatly helped in editing out many images. By year-end slowly, the creative juices were flowing again, and more montages took place.
2010 brought a fresh new beginning, thankful each day to still be alive. Plein air painting with close friends was an enjoyable change from planning and setting up photo sessions, but a major chapter was added to the site, a chronological presentation of my models from the Fifties to the present. No montages, straight images, for those who may prefer the simpler approach, but mostly to give the models a “Hall of Fame” and full credit for having shared over half a century the celebration of their being.
As I passed the cap of 80 years, a flurry of new montages took place during the first three months, followed by a major slow down as I put all my efforts into preparing two books for publication in the fall. The first: Muses and Models, 200 pages, is a biography and a souvenir album of the models who have posed for me since the 1950s. It is a limited edition, hard cover of 100 numbered copies. Its publication fortunately made it in time for Christmas. The second book Mythica, also hard cover and limited edition, is a collection of selected photomontages offering themes such as: myths and legends, shadows and dreams, fantasia, mortality, etc. with selections excerpted from Joan E. André's poems. It also made it just in time for the holidays, bringing a great ending to a busy year.
A fresh start, a new year, a new model, and the realization that this year will be my 59th year of photographing the nude! Can't wait to celebrate the 60th! Keep posted.
A good year experimenting as much as possible not only in montage but lighting, set-up and props. The challenge and excitement about figure photography is to see a personal evolution and hopefully growth. Some notable entities in several web site such as Pentaprism and the high quality figure "Model Society". A pleasure to be asked to be featured among some very fine photographers and models.
The year has just begun with two excellent models to set the mood for a great creative year ahead. Thank you Amanda and Angela.
So thankful and amazed to enter my 61st year of nude photography, also to be able to work with reliable and experienced models. One develops a creative and relaxed working relationship over the year, which reflects in the results. This also provides an opportunity to better interpret the personality of the model. Adding soul to the body completes the marvel of the experience.
In the Fall I had the pleasure to collaborate on an Astrological Calendar, designed and direct by Angela, my model for the past three years who has just changed her name to Moira de la Loba. Great to see some of my favourite montages put to good use.
In the artwork department, I completed several still lifes, but best of all enjoyed doing a series of twenty-four portraits of Moira. A great exercise in search of personality and expression to complete the year with oil paint!
Time to look back and understand what is the driving force to keep on shooting! Many reasons. The first is the innate urge to capture and save a unique moment, a mood, a light, or an expression. Among others, this is one good excuse to keep on.
Next there is the inspiration, the model, her character, her look, her attitude, and her ability to express emotions. These attributes help in the choice of the set up, backgrounds, lighting, props, to better complement the subject.
But most significant is the search for the new. That is the great advantage of my approach to photomontage, giving free rein to an unlimited range of imagery and emotions.
Backgrounds as well as the model often dictate the direction of a shoot and its ultimate purpose. I have to admit that the library of backgrounds and props I have built up over the years is nearly as extensive as are the model files. It is a treasure trove where, when low on creative ideas, leafing through the props catalogue never fails to bring a new image to life. Bear in mind that all these backgrounds are or were photographed with a specific mood in mind, just waiting for the right model and pose to merge the two.
Last but not least is the sharing of knowledge built up over the years to help or inspire others. It may be articles, workshops, publications, but best of all is the unique, often unpredictable joy of working with the model to create that "new" image, and sharing with her the reward of a successful creative experience.
It was a good year!
Time marches on… I will be 85 yeas old in February this year, and will be delighted to keep you posted on the work progress as it develops!
Jean Jacques André